Reliving my childhood as a grown-ass woman — NOW: with friends!
When I was in middle school, I didn’t fit in anywhere. Not really. Not — except with the nerds.
I was too chubby and introverted to be one of the pretty popular girls, and I was way too uncoordinated to play sports. I wasn’t quite broken enough to belong with the bandos (although I wasfirst chair flute), and hanging out with the cutters was emotionally exhausting.
But I was, shockingly, good at math — perhaps simply because the four boys who were in the advanced math class treated me like I was one of them (all my math skills have since left me — I can barely do long division now). They were nice to me, they didn’t make comments about my body, and they generally treated me like a human.
And they talked about things I liked. Like science fiction movies, and video games, and books, and history.
So, while my peers were doing sports or gossipping or smoking behind the school during free hour, I was in the computer lab playing Tribes with Trenton and Nathan and Justin and John. We went to weekend math competitions, and made up inside jokes about the answer to everything being “6”.
It was great. But the truth is that even there, I didn’t fully fit in, because I couldn’t exactly go to their houses and game with them and discuss comic books late into the night — the parents would never allow it. There was always that participation barrier, which felt kind of like a metaphor for the larger gender barriers that often existed in the nerd community in the 80s and 90s — e.g. the near void of female action hero toys (which didn’t stop me from cherishing my Ninja Turtles figures and muscle men). Outside our math club, nerd communities seemed to require complex systems of “proving” one’s worthiness to participate based on route memorization of canon, while I was more interested in the implications of the stories, and the metaphors they represented. It was just too much work — unnecessary, arbitrary work, to have to fight to maintain status, I thought. So, in college, I went about my own nerdly pursuits into Tolkien and Celtic mythology on my own, and, aside from impressing dates (ok who’m I fooling — it was just the one) with my knowledge of who was in Groucho Marx’s stateroom in Night At The Opera, I didn’t try much to participate in nerd culture.
Not until a few years ago, when I met Charlie Carden, who runs Facebook nerd forum Secret Friends Unite!with his platonic life partner Todd Oxtra. Their love and enthusiasm, and their focus on celebration of nerd culture, were intoxicatingly fun, and warm, and welcoming. More importantly, it reminded me — through insanely in-depth, nuanced threads about the hypothetical racism of the Star Wars’ Empire against droids, or the miswriting of Star Trek Voyager’s first female captain Janeway — that the stuff of nerd culture is a beautiful lens through which we can hash out issues that are important here in the real world.
Then I started this publication last fall, then, early this spring, I was invited to play a Dungeons and Dragons podcast with a group of the guys from nerd publishing hub The Court of Nerds. The Dungeon Master’s daughter and my daughter were besties in PreK, and one comment leads to another, then suddenly I’m playing a druidic elf over Skype with three dudes, trying desperately to figure out how to roll for damage.
That’s kind of how my life tends to go, generally.
I’ve been a fan of The Court of Nerds for a while; I met some of them last year, when they were doing panel work for Grand Rapids Comic Con, and they struck me as a really friendly, sincere bunch. With irrepressible boyishness simmering just below the surface.
When The Last Jedicame out, Court Nerd Jon Calvaruso was quick to post a video in defense of the film, which for me, frankly, has become a bit of a metric regarding what kind of nerd communities are fun to hang out in vs those that are angry trollfests. I don’t like blanket generalizations, and I hate drawing lines across communities, but after watching misogynist trolls spam RottenTomatoes ratings on The Last Jedi then try to do the same thing to Black Panther, I’ve really lost my patience with the small but vicious minority of nerds who are running Daisey Ridley, Leslie Jones, and now Kelly Marie Tran off social media.
It just feels like a bit of a litmus test, you know? Not that you love TLJ, necessarily, but that you can at least have empathy for why a Star Wars fan could legitimately love it, without getting into some kind of bizarre ideological turf war. And, in the midst of the hurtful and absurd revenge of the angry fanboys, seeing Jon’s video out there just…it felt really good to me. It felt like bridge being extended.
So, yeah: these are goodnerds. Even if they are quite…let’s say boyish (Stacey excluding, of course. Stacey is fucking adorable.).
I mean, Grant (our Dungeon Master) and Kevin (halfling Ffrip Shallows) make a LOT of cum and dick jokes. Like, a LOT. Gregg (fairy-fucked-dragon Grundelbreaker Hoofenbrocker) is a little more civilized, but Grant I’m pretty sure is a 14 year old boy trapped in the body of a thirtysomething man.
And you know what? That’s actually perfect. Because, as I said in my debut on the Court’s maincast: it feels just like I’m back in middle school, and for the first time in my life, I mean that in a good way.
Their mission is to open the conversation up to newbies, and to longtime fans, which, again — in a community that’s becoming increasingly territorial — is refreshing.
Cuz they’re good. And collaboration with good people is a balm to the soul.
So when the Court invited me to join a few weeks back, it was an easy decision. I see COSGRRRL and The Court of Nerds as two complimentary publications serving overlapping but different niches, and creation always > competition. The Court of Nerds is like the meat and vegetables grocery store of nerdery, sitting across from COSGRRRL’s gluten-free, vegan themed cupcake cafe. They talk about games, tech, comics, and TV/movies, while COSGRRRL waxes existential about whatever mythology — pop culture or sometimes otherwise — comes within range.
I imagine that COSGRRRL readers go over to visit The Court for staples like comic book reviews and tech news, while their folks come over to COSGRRRL for the occasional Afrofuturist story, or elucidation of where the Bell Curve meets DnD stats.
And yes: part of why they invited me to join is because I’m a woman, and women are currently very underrepresented on the Court (wave to Stacey, the Court’s other woman). And also because I’m a good writer, and because I occasionally take the wild shape of a dire wolf (which has been dubbed “Wolvana”), and because I’m a generally fun and lively person — or I like to think so, anyway.
And all that’s ok with me. Some of my earlier experiences with nerd culture were of being excluded from clubs for being a girl. Being includedspecifically for being a girl (among other things) — well, that…feels like balance being restored.
Like a coming full circle, in a way. Or, better yet: like gathering the XP I need to ascend to the next level and finally open that magical portal I tried to open years ago, and having the guardian smile and greet me by name.